Bava Metzia 73

Payment now, delivery later.

On today’s daf, Rava of Barnish plays the role of talmudic tattle tale when he reports the following to Rav Ashi:

The master sees the sages who consume interest, as they give money for wine in Tishrei, and they select the wine in Tevet. 

Master, says Rava of Barnish, there are sages who pay for wine six months before they select the barrels they have purchased. And how does that qualify as interest? If they had selected their barrels at the time of purchase, some of them might have spoiled as they aged and the purchasers would have ended up with less than they originally purchased. By deferring their selection for six months, they avoid any risk of spoilage. And the extra wine they get as a result should be treated like interest, as it is an extra payment they earn by advancing their payment, i.e. loaning money, to the wine seller. How can you let this be? Rav Ashi responds:

They too gave for wine, but they did not give it for vinegar. That which was wine at the outset is still wine, and that which became vinegar was vinegar (when they paid for it).

There is no problem here, says Rav Ashi. If the sages had selected barrels from the outset that turned out to be vinegar, they would have the right to replace them later with unspoiled ones. As such, they do not gain a financial advantage from paying now, so there is no problem with this practice. 

Having set aside Rava of Barnish’s concerns, the Gemara turns its attention to another case of deferred delivery of wine: Ravina would pay in advance when he ordered wine that would be delivered after the harvest. One time, when the wine was delivered, the seller threw in an extra jug, one which Ravina had not paid for. 

Ravina goes to Rav Ashi himself (perhaps Rava of Barnish had retired from the tattling business, given that it did not go so well for him earlier) to ask whether accepting the extra jug should be allowed:

Rav Ashi said to him: Yes, they forgo payment to your benefit.

The wine, says Rav Ashi, is a gift, one meant to secure Ravina’s repeat business, and as such it is not considered interest. Ravina has nothing to worry about.

As we’ve seen throughout the fifth chapter of Bava Metzia, the rabbis are so concerned that people might violate the biblical prohibition against charging interest that they ban a wide variety of practices where you really have to squint to see how they might be construed as interest. So it’s no surprise that Rava of Barnish and Ravinah raise concerns when they suspect that interest has been charged. In the particular cases raised on today’s daf, the rabbis determine that they don’t cross the line. You can accept a freebie from a vendor and defer the selection of wine barrels to a time well after the sale took place without running afoul of the Torah’s prohibition on charging interest. But it still might not be a good idea to go around tattling to your rabbi on your friends.

Read all of Bava Metzia 73 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 11th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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